I Speak TV: ‘Nikita’ (and Tiny Kung-Fu Women)

Posted: September 10, 2010 in Threat Quality
Tags: , , , ,

It’s time for your apparently semi-regular “Tiny Kung-Fu Women TV” column. This time around: CW’s Nikita pilot. The short version: it was blah, then it was eh, then it was maybe.

And then by the last two minutes it gave me something worth tuning into the next episode for.

But I know what you’re all asking: How does it compare to that milestone of Tiny Kung-Fu Women TV, Alias

Despite its best efforts, it isn’t Alias, the show it most aspires to (which does, itself, owe a debt to the original Besson movie). It’s not nearly as stylish or clever in revealing its central conceit (that the damn thing’s been remade twice already doesn’t help any), and it doesn’t do the much-needed character building that made the Alias pilot so damn good.

But it’s not Covert Affairs, either – which was pleasant enough – but despite a nice supporting cast made up of folks I liked on other shows (Jake 2.0, Cutthroat Bitch, Papa Cohen and Kari “I don’t have a character-based nickname” Matchett) didn’t really have anything interesting enough to keep paying attention to.

It actually comes closest to a slightly better version of 2007’s Bionic Woman reboot (and yes, I’m linking to an old MySpace post to show you just how long I’ve been paying attention to this crap). Though it IS a lot better than Bionic Woman, even while hitting a lot of the same origin-story/supporting player beats, because it seems to have a clearer sense of what it wants to be.

What it wants to be is the sequel to the Nikita story everyone’s so familiar with. And that is why I’ll be watching a couple more episodes.

The pilot starts the Nikita story in medias res (always recommended, I say), having the title character already gone rogue and plotting against the sinister Division, while giving the viewer the (apparently) required exposition through the eyes of a new recruit, Alex, whose origin pretty much mirrors what we’ll call Nikita 1.0 (Maggie Q). It’s a smart enough move, not forcing the viewer to sit through the “Nikita realizes Division is Bad and goes rogue” plot they’re already expecting/bored with.

Between the exposition, there are a couple needless flashbacks, a quicky dream-sequence, a few brief action sequences, an “I’m not going to torture you” scene, a couple “We’ve got to bring her in NOW!” moments…you’ve seen all this before. In this era of quick decision-making, I wouldn’t be surprised if most viewers got bored with the familiarity and changed the channel.

(Though, likely they didn’t , because seriously, nothing else is on tonight. Ratings-wise, it may be screwed, since the NBC comedies, The Big Bang Theory, The Mentalist, and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia will make it a pretty packed Thursday for DVRs).

But if they didn’t, they got to see the pilot pull the rug out from under them, switching the story up from “Rogue agent plots to bring the bad agency down” to “Rogue agent actually seems to have a pretty well-laid plan for bringing the bad agency down.” I’m being coy here on details, because you should take the 45 minutes to watch the show and decide for yourself. (You may curse me for this – I contritely accept your shaking fists if you rue my suggestion.)

For my own part, I was mildly pleased that the show actually did a little legwork and gave viewers something to come back for next week. And really, on a show with a plot as well-trod as this one, what else can it really do?

I’m not vouching for Nikita, the way I could for other pilots (like Pushing Daisies, for instance), but I will be paying attention to it, and I’ll let you know if, in the next weeks, it drops off in quality (as so many second/third episodes do).

Other notes:

–          On the supporting cast: Hey, there’s Xander Berkley! (He was the “shadowy boss” on the first two seasons of “24” – which were produced by the same folks who did USA’s La Femme Nikita show, so there you go – and is less likable than Miguel Fehrer was on Bionic Woman, though I mean that as a compliment); Hey, there’s Melinda Clarke! (making me wish Chuck could have found a regular role for her, since I have fond The OC memories); Hey, there’s…eh, Shane West (playing the Will Yun Lee Bionic Woman character, except much more shittily, since he has a baby-face despite being my age – then again, I gave Joshua Jackson the same grief and I’ve warmed to him on Fringe, so who can say?).

–          Maggie Q is pretty much devoid of emotion as Nikita, and it was kind of annoying me, until I read Todd Van Der Werff’s AV Club review, where he pointed out that they’d essentially split Alias’s Sidney Bristow into two characters: the cold, uber-competent spy, and the vulnerable newby. So I’ll deal with Q, like I dealt with the similarly blank Anna Torv on the first half of Fringe. (That’s why Van Der Werff gets the big bucks – by which I  mean he gets paid. )

  1. Was I the only one who liked the Bionic Woman reboot? I mean, yes, it wasn’t great, and no, I didn’t just like it for Michelle Ryan (but that helped). Actually, nevermind, it was a lot of wasted potential. At least a shit show like Andromeda didn’t start wasting potential until the middle of the second season.

    Stupid TV. Stupid producers. Stupid free market.

  2. Hmm, honestly, one of the reasons Besson’s films work so well is because they are so lacking in depth. Thus you’ll get a lot of people thinking you can flesh it out to make it more interesting. But really, no, there was no depth because it was a shallow idea. He really makes it work on a spectacular level, but there’s not really a lot of meat to go off of.

  3. Jeff Holland says:

    Exactly, Aspiringexpatriate. See: The Transporter. The deep idea: Jason Statham drives cars and kicks people. Sometimes at the same time.

    It’s a timeless theme.

    As for Bionic Woman, I think there’s an excellent pitch where Katee Sackhoff would have been the titular character – the Bionic Woman is an experiment gone wrong in the body of a sociopath – but that would have made Jamie Summers’ role harder to explain, and…something.

    I had actual ideas about this when the show was on, but thankfully my brain seems to have decided it wasn’t worth hanging onto.

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